By Jane Voigt
Maria Sharapova’s world is small. It is closed off to anything and anyone not Maria. And that’s the way she wants it.
The #2 seed at The Australian Open has directed herself, and her various flocks of essential believers, toward one goal: winning tennis matches.
She has been immensely successful at doing just that, becoming the top-paid woman athlete in the world — #23 million — according to Forbes.
Maria breathes the rarified air of financial success because she is talented and dedicated. Her mind in a match can be imagined as a row of lock boxes, each containing one point of play.
Maria can micro-manage her mind because tennis, plus all its elements, is all she knows — she knows no other lifestyle.
Inside Maria’s world daily routines are defined in advance whether travel, tournaments, practice/fitness, fashion shoots, or charity work. Once a match starts, though, she switches off those necessities, locks down her mind, executes her routines with precision … devil may care.
She is the sun of her universe.
At The Australian Open this year, this bright and beautiful woman has rammed through four rounds of play losing only five games — a statistic that baffles comprehension.
“It’s really about, you know, sticking to your game plan, being consistent, but playing your game,” she told the press today after her 61 60 win over Kirsten Flipkens.
Sharapova has dominated this slam before. In 2008 she defeated Justine Henin and Lindsay Davenport, two former Australian Open champions, plus Elena Dementieva, gold medal winner, plus Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Janowicz, two future number-one players on her way to her first, and only, Australian Open title. Her match scores weren’t quite as clinical, though. Through the fourth round she had lost 16 games, eleven more than this year.
Saturday she characterized that draw as, “the toughest in my career.”
Venus Williams, a former number one and 7-time slam winner, has been her biggest obstacle this January. However, Sharapova wasn’t fazed. She lost 4 games and pumped her fists four times before shaking Williams’ hand at the net. Sharapova never looked Venus squarely in the eyes, either, in the moment, as if the Russian could not raise herself to that level of sportsmanship. That sphere of courtesy.
These moments, which depict her as immature and incapable of recognizing her place in the bigger world of sport and humanity, have raised eyebrows and drawn references of her as aloof and cool.
You can hear it in her press conferences, as she speaks in the third person. She seems to school the media and the world that waits for her words.
“You have to face whoever’s in the next round,” Sharapova began. “Whether it’s Flipkens or whoever. It’s who’s ahead of you.”
A couple questions later, she was asked about her routine before matches. “I think over the years when you find a routine that works for you, you stick with it, whether it’s the times and when you warm up, how long, how long you like to give yourself before a match.”
Talking about yourself in the the third distances people. It puts up a fence that reads ‘please stay out’ I really don’t want to reveal too much about myself. You are welcome to read between the lines but that’s about as far as it goes.
Of course she refers to herself personally, as well, but only when having to do with tennis.
“I spend a lot more time doing like little shoulder exercises that are a complete bore, that I wish I didn’t have to do,” she said when asked about recover from matches. “I have to get treatment every day on the shoulder and also the body. I spend a good 45 minutes to an hour in the gym on days off.”
We cannot fault Sharapova for being Sharapova. So to gain a bit of privacy she must close the door. Otherwise her entire life would be splattered across our electronically connected planet.
Many forget how young she is — 25 — and that she’s been on tour for 12 years, and came to the United States with her father at age 7 at great family financial risk. Yuri, her father, had less than $1,000 in hand. Nick Bollettieri saw something in the youngster and welcomed her with a scholarship.
Yuri isn’t by her side anymore, but Maria remains close to both parents. Remember when she won her first grand slam at Wimbledon in 2004? She did a bit of crowd pleasing, then reached for her cell phone to call her mom.
Sharapova will play her 17th slam quarterfinal in two days against Ekaterina Makarova, seeded #19. This Russian defeated Serena Williams in Melbourne last year and took out Angelique Kerber, #5 seed today, 64 75. The lefty is poised to make more noise, especially after winning a gold medal in London in mixed doubles. Confidence is an elixir for some.
“It’s always the ultimate goal to get to the later stages of a Grand Slam,” Sharapova said after she defeated Venus Williams. “That’s really where you need to improve. In a way, I am quite experienced about how to pace myself mentally and physically throughout these two weeks. I’m not looking to stop in the quarterfinals.”
She never is looking to stop. She will not give up. What else would she do?